Young Australian pro golfer Ryan Ruffels has hit back at criticism of his mounting tally of sponsor invitation entries to US PGA Tour tournaments.
Ruffels, 20, will tee up in his 19th PGA Tour event at this week's Pebble Beach Pro Am on California's Monterey Peninsula.
Starting with his PGA Tour debut as a 17-year-old in 2015, all of Ruffels' starts have come through sponsor exemptions.
The talented Victorian has made the cut in a respectable 10 of those tournaments but, with a lone top-25 result, has not been able to use them to secure a PGA Tour card or advance to the secondary Web.com tour.
Non-members are allowed to use a maximum of seven sponsor invitations per PGA Tour season.
However, PGA Tour players can resent young golfers receiving a large number of such entries as they see it as taking a spot away from veterans or players on the fringes.
On Tuesday, several PGA Tour pundits pointed out Ruffels' 19 invitations and it prompted social media users to accuse him of benefiting from favouritism.
Ruffels is managed by the same sports agent as countryman and former world No.1 Jason Day.
He says the invitations are a reward for signing with a high-powered management company.
"What, am I not going to take them? It's an opportunity," said Ruffels, who plays on the PGA Tour's third-tier South American circuit.
"I was lucky to sign with a very good agent who has helped me out a lot. I don't think that's my fault.
"I know I haven't quite earned my way out here yet and I'm not trying to defend that.
"But I was invited to Pebble Beach and I thought it was better than sitting at home, so let's go have a crack."
World No.1431 Ruffels, the son of former tennis professionals Ray and AnnaMaria Ruffels, won the 2014 world junior championships in the US and, as an amateur, recorded two top-30 results in the Australian Open.
"I played good as an amateur which set me up to have some good opportunities as a professional. I don't feel guilty for taking starts," Ruffels said.
"Someone in my position would take them, too. I've played well in a lot of my starts, although not so much last year because I was struggling with my game."
Former world No.1 Day said the issue would quickly be forgotten should Ruffels find success on the PGA Tour.
"There's nothing wrong with it; if you can get 40 invitations, you should take them," Day said.
"If he turns out to be a great player, no one is going to remember the (19) sponsor invitations.
"However, he has to perform; he has to learn and grow because (the PGA Tour) is a chance for him to change his life."